COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
AEK 0, Everton 1, Injuries 3.
On a night that saw lack of time and money ensure I endured this one via ESPN, by the pictures from Athens, not a bad one to miss as it seemed to be monsoon season in a massive largely uncovered stadium producing a pitch to rival those of yesteryear.
The Blues, shorn of many players, went with what we have left and produced the unlikely back four of Coleman, Hibbert, Distin & Baines. After just 18mins, that became more unlikely as Bilyaletdinov had fired into the roof of the net after good work from Jo in providing the assist and Distin succumbing to the hammy he was carrying and was trolleyed off to be replaced by the untried Duffy, which compounded the problem of Gosling being trolleyed off on 11 mins to be replaced by the promising youth player Baxter. What a start! A great goal and then the unrelenting injury jinx striking yet again, and all inside 18 minutes. How many black cats have crossed our path?
For the next hour on a pudding of a pitch we pitched in and in truth looked a far better side than the hosts who, we were told, were beset by off-field financial problems causing friction and their three 'star' players on the bench. We attacked when we could and closed down all over the park with conviction.
The pitch was sodden and becoming a worry to many a Blue from an injury point of view but the next player to be trolleyed off was an AEK midfielder. Such was the nature of the pitch and the game we had only one shot on target in the first half, and it produced a goal, whilst the hosts also had only one shot on target but the diving Howard parried away to safety.
Half-tim and the chat with the Blues who were watching with me seemed to be one of ‘can we hold out with this line-up?’
Second half and the AEK manager put the second of his 'star' players on but in truth they looked toothless and not very good, very much like they performed at Goodison. The pitch seemed to be drying out a little but still resembled a ploughed field and the half continued much as the first except we didn’t attack as much seeming content to hold what we had and break if possible.
We did have a couple of scares, first when Hibbert blocked a goal-bound effort at close range and, shortly after, Baines failed to close down the attacker who shot and shaved the far post. Almost immediately we broke and Jo was put in and his goal-bound effort was tipped just around the post by the keeper — to add insult to injury the Ref gave a goal kick. That was our second shot of the night on target and it was to remain that way until the end.
Then Jo, who had continued his brighter form from the Derby, went down clutching his knee and another one bit the dust to vie for a place in the overcrowded treatment room. Yak replaced him but his instruction seemed little more than to have a run out without aggravating anything.
It then became backs to the wall time as AEK had a right go but it was obvious that they did not possess the quality that would surely have unhinged our makeshift and untried rearguard. Until the final whistle they had but one chance when a raid down their left saw an attacker cut in on the by-line and beat Howard only for Baxter to appear from nowhere and see it out for a corner.
An odd game in many many ways that saw a great goal, a bad pitch and only two shots each on target from two teams with mountainous problems. Both sets of fans must wonder when will it all end for their clubs.
Having said that, I thought tonight, no matter the display, the win may be all important for the remainder of the season, for it showed that, even in almost impossible circumstances, we had players on the pitch who can be a catalyst for better times. Tonight, I thought that the performance of Hibbert, Fellaini, Cahill and the outstanding Pienaar gave all around them the will to go the extra mile; lads like Duffy, Coleman and Baxter will have benefited, also Bilyaletdinov will have a greater sense of what it means to dig in for a small injury-ridden squad. The partnership of Fellaini and Pienaar in centre-mid looks promising and I wonder if the manager might consider that for Sunday...
The education in Europe continued with refereeing decisions that baffled but, just because they are not what we are used to domestically, they still must be taken on board for future reference as we picked up 5 yellow cards to their 1. We have enough trouble with injured players without getting suspensions through lack of understanding the Euro way.
Still we are through to the round of 32 with a game to spare and although I have already got my ticket for the BATE game I won’t be disappointed if the manager rests many a player for that game.
Heitinga and Neill will now be in contention for the knock-out stage to bolster our squad and IF we can get some more out of the treatment room onto the pitch as well as keeping those still available fit then maybe, just maybe we can get out of this ever increasing circle of injuries and make some progress on all fronts.
Difficult games coming up but after tonight maybe confidence will be that bit higher but whatever we are no strangers to difficulties at present.
See you Sunday aboard the rollercoaster that is Everton
UP THE BLUES
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1 Posted 03/12/2009 at 08:09:54
Didn’t have alot to do but his handling was very good considering the awful conditions.
Coleman - 7
Had a mare against Benefica but was steady in this game. Commentator Joe Royle kept on saying that Coleman needs to get tighter but he did ok especially considering he only had Baxter protecting him.
Hibbert - 8
I thought he did really well considering the foreign position and the inexperience around him. Stood up and was counted despite a couple of dodgy moments.
Distin - 5
Went off after 18 minutes injured. In hindsight it was a stupid decision by Moyes to play him at all. Probably going to miss the Spurs game now. Moyes should have just started Duffy.
Duffy - 7
Came on early for Distin and looked very vunerable for most of the first half. Maybe it was the nerves because as the game went on Duffy settled down and came into his own. This was quite an encouraging debut by the youngster.
Baines - 7
Was solid at the back and tried to help out Coleman and Duffy when he could. Found it difficult in the coniditions to get forward and whip in crosses.
Fellaini - 8
I thought big Marouane was terrific tonight. Played a more defensive role and did very well at breaking down AEK. Was always available to receive the ball and usually did something with it. Could a more defensive role be the answer for the Fellaini problem?
Cahill - 8
At last a decent performance from the stand-in skipper. Cahill has really struggled lately but this was more like his old form. Worked hard and caused problems in attack. Seemed to enjoy the conditions and leading the youngsters.
Bilyaletdinov - 7
Superb finish for his goal. He really put that away. Bilyaletdinov tried to cause problems but the pitch didn’t help him. Drifted in and out of the game but definately looks a player.
Pienaar - 9
Man-Of-The-Match performance from the returning Pienaar. Played a more central role and excelled. Worked tirelessly, tackled brilliantly and almost everything creative went through him. How we have missed him.
Gosling - 5
Went off injured after 10 minutes. Didn’t really get chance to rate him but at least he was in a more comfitable midfield role.
Baxter - 6
Came on very early for Gosling and made him longest appearance so far. Tried to make things happen but usually ended up running into the first defender. Did his best and worked hard but began to tire towards the end. Not sure he’s the next Rooney, could well be the next Osman.
Jo - 6
In fairness to Jo he worked hard and tried to hold the ball but he just doesn’t have any goal threat. Jo is too slow and not good enough on the ball to cause many problems. Still he did a job and deserves some credit.
Yakubu - 5
Came on late but looked very sluggish. He’s been back from injury awhile now but doesn’t look as if he’s improved his fitness at all. A couple of time it looked like my Dad trying to run. Badly needs to improve and quickly.
Moyes - 6
Got it wrong with Distin (should have started with Duffy). Still considering the awful injurys and conditions his team did him proud. Also its worth noting that making the final 32 of the Europa League is quote a feat considering the injuries and bad form this season.
2 Posted 03/12/2009 at 10:40:10
Too early to tell with Duffy, but he did seem to ’grow’ into the game and the longer the match went on - the better he looked.
3 Posted 03/12/2009 at 12:15:36
His tireless effort and quality on the ball is an inspiration to the rest of the team.
His contract dispute (I call it that becuase he has not yet signed an extension) should be a priority for Moyes given Stevie P’s value to the team.
4 Posted 03/12/2009 at 17:08:06
I agree young Duffy got better as the game progressed and he certainly looks the part for a centre back, what a strapping big lad he is for his age. I wonder how big he will be when he’s fully grown! I’ve a feeling this one could well make it, fingers crossed.
5 Posted 03/12/2009 at 17:57:54
Pienaar, surely, has to be secured at all costs. On the hopeful side, he is an honourable and very moral person and must appreciate what EFC have done for his career, but I suppose we could all use an extra million or two now and then.
And a word for Jo. He’s looking more and more like a good old-fashioned inside forward. The ball through to Bily was a classic. I still think he has a future with us.
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